Estimated reading time: 11 minutes
Posted on January 14, 2014

Grow It Strong: Dream Team Building

Our road to the exceptional team, winning culture and Fortune 500 clients

Post 2 – Our Team Building Event

I’m taking another step towards describing our company growth and evolution as well as everyday highs and lows in the series called Grow It Strong: Business Ideas For A Dream Company. Our road to the exceptional team, winning culture and Fortune 500 clients. This post is dedicated to the truly pivotal team building event I’ve mentioned earlier.

I’m going to guide you through the whole process from A to Z: choosing a place and topics to discuss, preparing presentations, holding the event itself, setting the right mood and creating a productive atmosphere, analyzing results and making plans for the future.

To say that we’ve been preparing hard for the event is to say nothing.

The other co-founders and I started shaping up our ideas and discussing ways to make them come alive long before the actual arrangements. But with the day X approaching, we eventually agreed on how to transform our thoughts into well-structured and engaging presentations and speeches. We were really eager to share our vision and plans and, most importantly, talk them through with the team.

A team understanding and accepting your company values and mission is the #1 trigger for constantly advancing and maturing. On the contrary, team members thoughtlessly doing the job with no grasp of the bigger goals behind will keep the company at a standstill if not drag it down.

On the whole, it took us about a month or, to be precise, 90 hours to get our presentations ready. Obviously, the working process needed to keep going and we had to seize every available minute as well as use weekends to finish up the speeches. We split the responsibilities evenly among the co-founders just like we do on a daily basis with each one of us taking care of 2-3 presentations.

It was crucial that we all acted initiatively as equal contributors.

We discussed our drafts a lot making multiple changes, coming up with alternative ideas and looking at the subjects from different perspectives.

The three of us made test presentations for each other twice to make sure they were easy to understand and interesting to listen to. We had already spoken on various topics in front of the team before but this particular event was very important and much hoped for. Besides, we wanted to know the exact length of the presentations to schedule our trip well.

These rehearsals helped us to get initial feedback and figure out the perfect duration of speeches and time for coffee breaks, how and in what order to present the text. We pointed out issues to focus on more and those to pay less attention to, advised each other on how to better cover certain topics and use appropriate visual aids to communicate the idea.

In fact, preparing slideshows appeared to be very time-consuming

but we couldn’t neglect it as the right proportion of text and visuals would ensure the team to stay focused while the right picture would contribute to remembering the content and creating a casual atmosphere.

We chose Keynote for preparing our presentations and did a few things a bit wrong. We decided to work with text in Google Docs first to review and edit it together. That way was handy but it’d have been even better to make notes in the presentation slides right away. While presenting your speech, it’s always good to see the current slide on your laptop together with the next slide preview and accompanying notes & comments. That’s why we had to do a lot of copy-pasting when getting slideshows ready.

After we’d been done with the presentations, we moved to searching for a place.

From the very beginning we knew we needed to get out of the city. Why? To set a more relaxed mood and thus make our get-together and discussions truly effective. We wanted to eliminate any distractions and time limitations and concentrate on communication. As a result, we rented a spacious house located 70 km from Minsk for two days. We chose the most suitable dates in terms of the workload. All that was left was to notify the clients of our days off, stock up on food and go.

Oh, and thank God we talked the menu over! You may know your team for several years and share millions of lunches with them but still get very surprised by their culinary preferences :)

Day One

Right after arriving at the destination, we started to set up our local “infrastructure”: installing a projector and a screen, preparing a snack, heating up a sauna, making firewood ready. It all took us less than an hour and we’re all set to begin with the presentation part.

Below I’m going to only quickly touch on the topics of discussion as there will be separate posts dedicated to almost each one of them.

Introduction = 30 min

First, we outlined what we would speak about and why and described the plan for the coming two days. Thanks to the fact that we had earlier defined the exact length of our presentations, we could easily schedule the rest of activities.

We also set certain rules like

  • turning off mobile phones,
  • asking questions one by one,
  • being active participants and
  • avoiding trolling :)

The team got to know which presentations would involve discussions on the go, which would presuppose conversations coming after and when it’d be best to take notes.

As expected, this first presentation wasn’t followed by huge feedback as the team needed to take some time to get completely involved.

That’s why introductory speeches are so important – they warm up your audience preparing it for perceiving really significant information.

Our Manifesto = 30 min

We believe that every company needs its own manifesto. It will act like a guiding light or a reference point helping to make reasonable decisions, assign priorities and avoid misunderstandings or conflicts of interest.

Remember that a manifesto is about a company culture, its values and principles and not about bureaucracy and formalities.

Lots of major companies have shared their manifestos including TwitSprout, Nextdoor, Mozilla, Maptia, and 37signals (though they have recently removed it from the public access).

Having created ours with the other co-founders, we presented it to the team. We felt excited and weren’t quite sure what to expect, and it was so rewarding to see that the guys understood the idea, accepted it and approved of the Weavora manifesto.

Company Goals and Vision = 90 min

To make a strong beginning, we told a story of Teehan+Lax comparing them to us, and it turned out to be a truly inspiring thing to start with. We highlighted what we’d already achieved and could be proud of, defined our main problems and ways to overcome them, outlined the growth and development strategy and our vision for the company future, gave our insight of the team’s contribution to the progress.

Another important aspect we brought out was consulting as the term better fitting the scope of our activities than outsourcing. We got a chance to make up a portrait of the ideal client and discuss what these companies looked for, defined projects we wanted to deal with and a reputation we wanted to gain.

We all agreed on the fact that it would take time, efforts, and everyone’s involvement to end up working with the most desired partners on the most challenging products.

Developer Requirements = 75 min

One more point on the agenda was developing a kind of KPI for each team member giving a clear understanding of a person’s responsibilities, job requirements, and opportunities closely tied up with financial incentives. It’s essential that everyone knows what to do and how to do it and can act independently without any supervision.

We stick to the idea of eliminating management positions and hierarchy in the company and aim at even distribution of duties and accountability zones.

After the brisk discussions and working out our brains, we were ready to relax.

We enjoyed a hot sauna, arranged an air hockey competition, and rewarded ourselves with a big, fancy dinner. The rest of the night was about chillaxing with a shisha and chatting. We finally managed to get ourselves to bed only at dawn. Luckily, breakfast had been planned for 10 a.m. so everyone had their good night’s sleep after such a saturated day :)

Day Two

To recharge our batteries, we started the day from a heavy breakfast. After making a good retrospection and fueling ourselves with coffee, we felt energetic enough for another round of productive communication.

The second part of presentations was supposed to be more engaging and requiring constant team participation.

Community Overview = 60 min

For the entering speech we’d chosen more of an infotaining style since we wanted to completely wake up our audience.

We’d prepared information on three major industry players: Pivotal Labs, Relevance, Inviqa.

We had singled out these consulting companies in particular as, first of all, they publicly shared the details and peculiarities of their work processes. Moreover, we respect them for staying focused on development and not trying to sell all-in-on-package services as well as sticking to development from scratch instead of CMS or script customization.

Pivotal Labs team openly explains their customer relations approaches, describes an everyday schedule, shares the best of their experience. These guys have worked with successful and reputable clients and managed to create their own product. They pay lots of attention to efficiency, quality of what they do and testing which, we feel, coincides with our own core values.

Relevance has a very impressive project portfolio and has also shared many details of their agile-based approach and development processes.

Both these companies are great and active open source contributors. View their contributions on GitHub: Pivotal Labs & Relevance.

We feel a connection with Inviqa as they work with a tech stack very close to ours including PHP and Symfony.

Telling about these amazing companies, we tried to set an example of smooth team work, effective approaches and methodology.

It was important to show that there was living proof of how successful one might be if having the right vision and implementing the right values, the vision and values we had in fact described in our manifesto.

Technologies = 110 min

This presentation was different in the way that the team knew about the topic and should have prepared for it. Two weeks before the event, we had shared a list of technologies by category:

  • frontend js frameworks
  • task runners
  • js testing tools
  • backend languages
  • highload job managers
  • server scripting languages, etc.

All the tools included both those we had been working with and those out of use. We were eager to get each team member share his own tech preferences and opinion on what tools were worthy or not. Via such a poll, we had an excellent opportunity to make up a perfect tech kit to everyone’s liking.

Product = 90 min

Last but not least, we devoted our time to talking about promotion of our own product as an addition to consulting. Everhour is a time tracking tool we’ve created for ourselves, so if it perfectly meets our team’s needs, there definitely are like-minded people = potential customers out there.

We decided to approach marketing and promotion activities wisely and carefully, discussed the problem we could solve, people we could help, USP, competition, important stats to track, ways of gradual and reasonable growth, promotion strategies and hacks.

When the brainstorming was over, we switched into a sport mode with a football kickabout followed by barbecue and shisha (we never get enough of shisha :)) and more conversations on Everhour. We were ready to drive back home only at 10 p.m.

Conclusion

The event turned out even better, more productive and more fun than we’d expected with everyone having purely positive feelings about it and being in the best mood for working harder.

Perhaps, the only thing we’d have done differently is to deliver fewer presentations on the first day to make it less exhausting. Oh, and we’ll certainly bring some board games like Dixit or poker cards with us next time.

We’ve made sure that two days are enough for fulfilling all plans, though we wouldn’t have minded staying in the house for another day.

Openly sharing your plans and thoughts with the team is profoundly important for moving forward.

It’d be wrong to believe that ideas you discuss together with the co-founders are obvious and self-explanatory for the employees.

You need to talk everything out loud, but you’ll hardly manage to squeeze such conversations in the busy office schedule. Going out of town like we’ve done would be just perfect.

Since the event, we’ve been gradually accomplishing the identified goals and fulfilling the discusses ideas. Of course, it’s only the beginning of out great trip and a huge amount of things is still left to do. We’ll keep you updated on all our experiments, ups and downs, new approaches and results.

Stay tuned for the next post that will be dedicated to our company manifesto. And we hope you’ll enjoy a couple of our pictures taken during the two awesome days of the team building. If you want to see more, just check our Facebook page.